VOX MACHINA ORIGINS Vol 1 (Graphic Novel Review)
The Good: Art, story, characters, all of it gets 5 stars from me. I might be a little biased as a fan of the show (Critical Role), but Vox Machina Origins is so much more than a ‘companion’ to the series, offering a little something for everyone.
The Bad: If you’ve never seen Critical Role before, especially campaign 1, this might not have the same ring of nostalgia, but that’s not really a bad thing – it’s just another reason why you should watch it!
The Ugly Truth: Vox Machina Origins is a triple-threat treat to fans new, old, and uninitiated. Awesome artwork = check. Superb storytelling = check. Humour, heart, and a heavy right hook of action = check, check, check.
Review: Vox Machina Origins Volume 1 (VMO1) is an omnibus of the first six issues of the graphic novel that goes by the same name. Written by D&D dungeon master Matthew Mercer and Matt Colville, and with incredible artwork from Olivia Samson and colourist Chris Northrop, VMO1 is the full package. And then some.
Critical Role – for those that don’t know – is a show in which a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors (their words, not mine) play Dungeons & Dragons. It’s gone from strength to strength in its short lifetime, starting out on Geek & Sundry’s YouTube channel, before setting up shop in its own studio, and then going on to break multiple Kickstarter records where it ultimately raised over $11.3 million to produce an animated ‘special’ which became a series…and then more! Amazon later picked up the series, with merchandise deals following thereafter. Needless to say, Critical Role will be around for the foreseeable future, and although jumping onto a bandwagon bearing the weight of 115 episodes racking up more than 373 hours of viewing/listening might sound overwhelming, it’s really not. The show is wonderfully easy to get into, and I have to admit I was surprised by how VM01 captures its spirit and distills that into printed form.
(Minor spoiler warnings for VM01 – and Critical Role Campaign 1).
Vox Machina Origins does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s the origin story of the band of adventurers who would one day go by the name Vox Machina, and who would one day save the realm of Tal’Dorei.
The story introduces Vex and Vax first, half-elven twins, a ranger and a rogue respectively, who at this point in time are more used to looking out for themselves – and each other – than anyone else. Keyleth the Air Ashari druid appears early on, rounding-out team half-elf, before the story switches to Scanlan the gnome bard, and Grog the goliath barbarian. Tiberius the dragonborn sorcerer is here too (long before he leaves the show as the Briarwood arc gets underway), but Percy the human gunslinger and Pike the gnome cleric are missing. And they are missed – the dynamic when the full team gets together is the best part of the show – but the other larger-than-life characters are big enough to plug the gaps.
Mercer and Colville really capture the characters’ personalities on the page, something which I thought would be lost in translation between the ‘nerdy-ass voice actors’ and their written counterparts. Grog and Scanlan have always been my favourites, and it’s hard not to hear Travis’ and Sam’s voices echoing in your ear as their escapades unfold. Scanlan, as ever, steals the show when he’s on stage, and between his bardic singing, wit, and wisecracks, and breaking the fourth wall in a callback to the cast breaking character during the shows, he will likely be a favourite of many readers. That being said, each character gets their moment in the spotlight, whether through use of their special skills, or by story-beat, giving new readers time to get to know them individually, and old fans a chance to learn more about how it all started.
I fall into the latter category. Ish. I’m a big fan of the show, but only started watching/listening to it this year. With the birth of baby number 3, I needed something to get me through the baby-brain fuzz that I knew I would succumb to. I wanted something easy to follow, something lighthearted, and something that would last the months of sleepless nights teething. What I didn’t expect when I started out was how I’d end up falling head over heels for the cast, the story, and everything that they stood for within their game world, and the real world.
I picked up VMO1 around the same time I finished the last episode of campaign 1 (not including the Search for Grog, Search for Bob, or Wedding specials) and I went into this on a high, and a low. A high because yay, it’s Vox Machina, and a low, because, well, they’d come to the end of their show. Over the course of 115 episodes – plus one-shots and Talks Machina hosted by Brian ‘are we on the internet?’ Foster – I had fallen in love with this bunch of misfits, and even though there’s a whole new campaign ahead, with a whole new cast of characters, I didn’t want to let them go.
Originally released as individual issues, this omnibus edition reads wonderfully as a full-length serial, or in snippets. Something I hadn’t expected was how each ‘issue’ within the Omnibus felt like a ‘session’ of D&D. There’s enough development (both character and plot) to fill the pages, and still leave you wanting more without leaving you wanting.
Thankfully, with two campaigns and a whole host of other initiatives in the works, there’s plenty to keep fans new and old going. Vox Machina Origins Volume 2 is due for release in May 2020 in the UK, and with everything else in the works there are so many ways to get on board, and VM01 is as good as any.